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Yellowstone National Park is something truly special. Everywhere you look, you see an abundance of nature—God’s creation at its most glorious: mountain ranges, vast meadows, deep canyons, pine tree forests, dynamic rivers and waterfalls, boiling and steaming geysers, petrified trees.
President Ulysses S. Grant, former general of the Union Army in the American Civil War, signed the bill creating Yellowstone National Park in March 1872. A massive tract of land (nearly 3,500 square miles), located in extreme northwestern Wyoming (with parts extending into Montana and Idaho), the park generally outlines the central part of the Yellowstone caldera, a dormant super volcano, and comprises one of the largest single eco zones in the world. The first national park ever, Yellowstone has been administered, in order, by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Army, and, since 1917, the National Park Service.
This year, the park is 150 years old.
This past week (the last full week of July), my family and I explored the area extensively. I’ve been to Yellowstone at least six times in my life, but I didn’t know what to expect this year, especially with an economy in recession and outrageously high gas prices. But, the park is the park, and the visitors—at least to my untrained eye—seemed only slightly less numerous than during my previous visit, 12 years ago. Traffic jams occurred everywhere wildlife appeared, the area around Old Faithful was so claustrophobic and crowded that it felt a bit like a cross between Disney World and a Walmart on a Saturday afternoon, and the people who clearly have never driven RVs before clogged up parking throughout the park. Even the traffic jams, reveal what people yearn for—the glories of nature. And, despite the congestion, visitors to the park are happy to be there. They’re in good humor!
Believe me, I don’t want to complain. Yellowstone is a gem, and every time I visit, I feel just a little bit more proud to be an American. Interestingly enough, if my ears didn’t deceive me, probably one-fifth to one-quarter of the visitors came from foreign countries. Everywhere I turned, I heard a new language being spoken. Well, new to me, anyway.
Here are some of the many things I love about Yellowstone.
First, but not foremost, I think very highly of the National Park Service. For those of you who know me personally or through my writing here at The Imaginative Conservative, you might be surprised by this revelation. Of all writers here, I think I’m the most consistently libertarian and skeptical of anything to do with the federal government. Despite this, I really like the National Park Service. Rangers are always so professional and helpful. I feel the same way about the National Forest Service. Campsites are tidy, restrooms are clean, and the Rangers are never uninteresting, especially in conversation. After all, who else could not only tell you all about Elk migratory routes but also about where to expect Yellowstone to blow when she finally goes up again. I certainly don’t mind paying $80 a year for an annual National Park pass, and, frankly, I wish I could designate my federal income taxes to the NPS, NASA, and the U.S. Marine Corps (before it started going woke).
Second, and foremost, what a wholesome place for a family vacation. We’re not supporting some massive corporation (need I name a certain company that seems to own much of Florida?), and we’re not just idling the hours away. Despite the grizzlies, Yellowstone seems to have been made for families. Everywhere I looked in Yellowstone, I saw families: Japanese families, American families, Canadian families, Middle-eastern families, families, families, and more families. Sometimes I saw three generations of a family, all delighting in the adventure of it all. It was inspiring. My wife and I both visited Yellowstone as children, and we were so honored to share it with our own children.
Third, and close to foremost, the nature of it all. Granted, I love the American West. I love open skies, I love mountains, and I love cool, dry air. Even given all these personal loves, I still think Yellowstone is something truly special. Everywhere you look—in addition to seeing families—you see an abundance of nature, God’s creation at its most glorious. Mountain ranges, vast meadows, deep canyons, pine tree forests, dynamic rivers and waterfalls, boiling and steaming geysers, petrified trees. The landscapes in Yellowstone are as varied as they are vast. As my younger children noted, many of the landscapes in Yellowstone rivaled anything in a fantasy novel (specifically Narnia) or a painting.
This visit, we also saw buffalo, elk, moose, deer, hawks, and some cute little mammals we couldn’t quite identify. No bears or wolves, however much I would’ve liked to have seen them… only, though, at a distance. Still, what is better than a high meadow of a herd of, at least, 200 buffalo, resting, playing, eating, migrating? Perhaps, as my 21-year old daughter, Gretchen, says, “Maybe the buffalo want to see all the weird humans, too.”
Though the creation of Yellowstone National Park, to put it mildly, was controversial—after all, Americans of the nineteenth-century were not used to restrictions on land use—it also was the work of very far-sighted men. Not just President Grant, but others such as the first Mountain Men (who had heard about it from the American Indians) to explore the region after the journey of Lewis and Clark, as well as Irish-American heroes such as Thomas Francis Meagher. I think we can call those who drafted the bill and signed it statesmen, politicians who could see beyond the immediate and recognize the immensity of the future.
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Images courtesy of the author.